How are you doing working from home?
What a loaded question. Depending on your work situation and your home life, your answer might be layered and complicated. As we approach the one-year mark of life with COVID-19, I believe two things are true for us all, no matter our circumstances.
First, we never expected to be working remotely anywhere close to this long. And second, our feelings about working from home are always changing. For those of us in leadership positions, we also have to account for the ever-changing feelings of our teams.
I vividly remember the week that everything closed. As I packed up a few things at my office and checked in with a few of my colleagues, I thought for sure we'd be back together within a month or two. In those early weeks at home, I operated on adrenaline and did my best to take care of my toddler without dropping any balls at work.
While I checked in almost daily with all of my team members, I was in survival mode and hadn't yet figured out how to support myself — let alone other people. It was a few weeks later that I began to see the stark realization: working from home wasn't going anywhere. I knew I had to create a more supportive environment for myself and my team before our productivity began to suffer.
Now, almost a year later, we are still a work in progress. I am constantly tweaking and adjusting the support systems I have in place and available to our team. The emotional rollercoaster of life in a global pandemic is real, and we do ourselves a huge disservice when we ignore or minimize our struggles for the sake of professionalism.
This is not a new normal. This is life in a global pandemic.
No matter how solid your new routine is at home, your “normal” life has been and is still massively disrupted. The extra work our brains and emotional bodies have to do to navigate that disruption is just as challenging today as it was on day one.
As leaders, we should catch ourselves when we’re trying too hard to normalize or applaud our current work environment. Instead, we have to acknowledge that, for our colleagues and team members, what we’re doing is really tough, and it’s ok if every day isn’t your most positive or productive ever.
When it comes to supporting our teams, one of the most important things we can do is develop and maintain a keen awareness of what’s going on for each member.
Far too often, I talk to clients or friends who complain that their boss or colleagues have no idea how much they are struggling. When was the last time you asked your team members how they are doing? Genuinely? You likely won’t be able to solve all of the challenges that your team members face — and that’s ok. Yet asking and listening is an essential step in fostering feelings of connection and support.
Whenever possible, empower your team to create a work schedule that works well for them.
Talk to them about it at your team meetings. Encourage the use of shared calendars so that you can see when your team members are unavailable. Pick one or two days per week and designate them as “no meeting days” to give your team space for deep work.
Once your team has established some boundaries around their work, respect them! If you need more ideas of what this looks like in practice, I strongly recommend the intuitive scheduling method. Share those resources with your team regularly to keep the dialogue going about what works — and what doesn’t — in maintaining support.
Be intentional about the culture of support you create and check-in regularly to see what can be adjusted. We’ve all learned how to be far more flexible in the past year, and we can apply that increased flexibility to our work environments. Also, consider changing your meeting schedules or agendas every quarter to allow for fresh energy. Can you take a full week off of internal meetings every two to three months to give your team a chance to catch up? Even the smallest changes can stave off slumps.
And one last suggestion, allow for the return of regular phone calls.
Trust me. Not every meeting requires a video conference, and giving your team members a chance to turn off their videos is a small way to provide them with a bit more space.
In all likelihood, we’ll be working remotely in some fashion for a while. So your ability to be supportive in remote environments is a critical leadership skill that you can develop now! By practicing flexibility, acknowledging difficult feelings, and being extra aware of your team members’ circumstances, you can help your team now and in the future.